Mountain Bike for Road Touring?

October 23, 2010


At least once a week, I receive an email or phone call from someone asking if its okay to ride a mountain bike for their tour, whether it be a weekend trip or a cross-country tour. The quick answer to the question is absolutely, but here are some reasons behind the answer, and ways you can go about making it happen.

First off, not all riders have the privilege of owning multiple bikes, so if a mountain bike is all you have, it may be the best, and most realistic option available. Fortunately, the geometry of a mountain bike is pretty good for long distance touring, with a more upright riding position, and clearance for fenders and wider tires. Older mountain bikes often have long chain stays, which is great for keeping your heels clear of your rear panniers, however, newer race oriented mountain bikes are starting to shorten up the chain stays, which is claimed to improve traction when climbing. This may not create an issue, but something to be aware of, especially with smaller frame sizes. Most mountain bikes also have a very durable construction to hold up against the rigors of off-road riding.

There are a few aspects of a mountain bike that often make people second guess whether or not it can be suited for road riding. The first is that mountain bikes are usually setup with knobby tires. This is a quick and inexpensive fix, as there are a plethora of slick tire options available that will give you a quiet ride on the road with low rolling resistance.

As for hauling your load along, disc brakes can sometimes cause headaches when installing racks. If you have disc brakes and want to use racks, make sure you search out a disc specific touring rack for your wheel size (26" or 29er). Some examples would be the Old Man Mountain Cold Springs racks, as well as Topeak Tubular Explorer racks. If you don't want to take this route, you can always go with a trailer, but again, make sure that you choose a trailer with the proper wheel clearance.

Another mountain bike component that can cause some second guessing is the suspension fork. When riding on the road, front and/or rear suspension really isn't going to help you much, but it probably won't ruin your ride either. If you have a relatively newer suspension fork, you might be able to lock it out for a more rigid ride. Steel rigid forks are also fairly inexpensive, and can be quickly swapped out by your local shop.

As far as handlebars are concerned, sticking with flat bars can give you a more stable riding position, but can also limit the amount of potential hand positions available when compared to drop bars. There's no reason you can't swap drop bars for your flat bars, but this often means that you will have to find a new set of shifters and brake levers.

If your mountain bike has 26" wheels, don't in any way feel inferior to 700c road wheels. Depending on how the wheel is laced up, 26" wheels can offer great durability with their shorter spokes and wider rims. In fact, there are a fair amount of road touring bikes that have played around with smaller 26" and 650B wheel sizes to take advantage of their benefits in strength.

In the end, I'm not trying to insinuate that you should go out and purchase a new mountain bike for your next road tour. This is aimed at riders who currently have a mountain bike, and don't want to invest in a second bike for their upcoming trip.


TOURING GEAR AND TIPS is written by Joshua Tack of Adventure Cycling's member services department. It appears weekly, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead.



Good thoughts, Josh. Thanks for sharing this! Get my head (and my wallet) closer to my One Bike To Rule Them All idea...

October 24, 2010, 3:10 PM
Dave The Wave

way cool,its nice to know what i already know,i tour with a mountain bike and love seems to me that you missed a very good point,and that is the gearing,most mountain bikes are already geared low which means you might go a little slower,BUT climbing will be a lot easier with the lower for going a little slower ? i dont mind it a bit,i can still cover 50-60 miles a day and for me that is plenty good. remember it aint about the destanation IT'S ABOUT THE JOURNEY. happy trails.

October 30, 2010, 1:14 PM
Tim Little

The full suspension bikes ( and disc brakes are in demand features that only the more popular models have today.

September 7, 2011, 12:38 AM
Mike Dowsing

I use a road commute frame, with front suspension, strong road wheels, discs, triple road geared chainring and road drop bars. This will eat any mountainbike. It's touring in comfort and I go on sealed and unsealed road with ease.

See my article:

October 3, 2011, 9:49 PM

I have been using mtn bikes for years I would rather have that than a lht or big dummy I use a next mtn bike and have over 3000 mile on stock equipment only had to replace front derailer bike fell on something and bent the derailler other wise would still be stock oh yeah took off stock bars put on trekking bars here is a vid

May 15, 2013, 12:56 PM

Recently built a mountain bike that provides solid handling with a load as well as providing a superb way to commute around town on multiple surfaces, gravel, grass, pavement,etc. Thanks for sharing this article as it seems to be a growing trend. Was just looking at some photos of a guy touring for two years on a fat tire bike.

May 7, 2014, 12:39 AM

It's been a long time since I used my mountain bike for mountain biking, or any other bike but it for touring. I found it decidedly better in every way to my old Trek 520. Starts with the fact that they are more sturdy and breakdowns are less likely. I have to say I also abandoned paniers years ago - once you try a trailer there is no going back

May 19, 2014, 10:55 AM

Thank you all for your comments and to you who wrote the article. Very helpful!!

July 30, 2014, 3:22 PM
Thato Moupo

So all in all would you say that the Trans Amerucan Trail can be done on an MTB? I am looking to cover about 65 miles per day. I'm asking because I could really benefit from the extra cash I would have from not having to buy a touring bike.

December 9, 2014, 11:49 AM
william buttry

thato Yes just put on smooth 1.75 or 1.50's and your rack panniers or trailer and go. mtn bike are made like a brick sht house little heavy but worth going to get non suspenion frame less to brake make sure you can change out your gearing on the front if you want different gears but yes it can

December 9, 2014, 7:12 PM
Thato Moupo

Thanks Will, I am planning to do the Trans AM next year and to be honest the 800+ dollars I would she'll out for an entry level touring bike are making it harder to do it financially. I am also not a fan of that kinda bike and would have no use for it after the tour but I don't wanna go the reselling route too as I would never wanna part with a bike that took me across the country.

December 24, 2014, 8:51 PM

Hey man , thanks for sharing your experience . This might sound crazy ( well that's pretty much what others say ) bu is it a good idea to attach an aero bar ( I call it the arm rest ) on an MTB . The terrain , where I live is not really good for a road bike, so settled for an MTB . Would it be a good idea if one is planing a long ride ?

November 23, 2015, 12:42 AM
Ankit Chopra

Hey man thanks for sharing your experience. Ihave a dual suspension "BSA Hercules top gear tz110" I ride 20 to 30km every day so I thought I should try something bigger so I went for a 125 km ride day before yesterday it was a nasty experience. Seriously it felt like going threw hell so I am planing to go for a new bike can you please suggest some thing good for such road rides in feature.

October 23, 2016, 4:37 AM

Check out aliexpress "mtb carbon frames". You can get mtb frame fork seatpost and handlebars for 400USD. Thats gonna be my next ultralightweight (9kg) touring rig.

March 4, 2017, 9:23 AM

I have done 2 trips of 1400km with my e-mtb which allowed me to do more km per day. I don't regret to do it with a mtb, and I even would say that is better as a lot of cycle path, canal, are not like roads. I cycle tour to avoid main roads.

December 19, 2017, 4:36 PM

I am planning 2000 miles in Indian, Nepal and Bhutan, I am confused between MTB and Hybrid. If I will go for MTB will it hinder my speed compared to hybrid? Speed is my only concern here.

January 28, 2018, 9:47 AM
Post a Comment

Required Fields in Bold